Golden age of travel: Hilton ramps up hotel expansion in Asia

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Alan Watts
Hilton Asia Pacific President Alan Watts

By Arra B. Francia

THE GROWING number of travelers in the Asia-Pacific region has provided a great opportunity for hotels to boost their expansion in the region. For Hilton Hotels, this gives the group not only the space to bring its brands to new markets, but also the chance to support the growth of their local economies.

Calling this era “the golden age of travel for the Asia Pacific,” Hilton Asia Pacific President Alan Watts said they are set to open more than 100 hotels this year, which is more than any of their competitors will unveil in the same period.

“We are growing faster than any of our competitors in Asia…Demand in travel means that owners and investors want to build hotels. When they want to build hotels, our brands carry the premium. And that means we’re very good for owners. We stand for very good commercial returns,” Mr. Watts told BusinessWorld in a Feb. 11 interview at the Conrad Manila in Pasay City.

The Hilton group’s robust expansion comes on the back of the unprecedented tourism growth in the Asian region, given the modernization and urbanization of emerging markets.

“You just think of China as an example, with over 120 million Chinese travelers annually, and that number gets bigger every year,” Mr. Watts said, adding that the same is happening in Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia.

Mr. Watts added that the strong economic growth of emerging markets has also boosted domestic travel, sustaining the demand for more hospitality providers.

For instance, he noted that 60% of Conrad Manila’s guests are now domestic Filipino travelers.

“From at three times the GDP growth of a mature market, it means that you’re having modernization and urbanization of big populations. If you go back 10 to 15 years, then hotels like this will fill primarily with international travelers,” Mr. Watts explained.

Apart from Conrad Manila, the group also manages the Hilton Manila in the Resorts World Manila complex. Other brands in the Hilton group include the Waldorf, Canopy, Curio Collection, and Hampton, among others.

Its latest project in the country is Hilton Clark Sunvalley Resort in Clark, Pampanga, which is slated to open in May. Sunvalley Hotel Clark Corp. has signed a management agreement with the Hilton group for the property.

Hilton Clark will offer 268 rooms and is part of a 304-hectare private country club with 36 holes, a water park, upscale residential villas and spa, and sports facilities.

“This will be another example of strong international, but also very strong domestic. If you think of where our brands are positioned, we can cater to both markets. The further you get away from gateway cities, the more you’re adapting your brand to the domestic palate,” Mr. Watts said.

Mr. Watts highlighted that the Hilton Clark will focus on quality and making their guests feel special, using innovations that will help customers have a great stay.

The group expects the opening of Hilton Clark to contribute to 6-7% of local employment upon operations. The impact on the local economy is seen to be much larger at 20%, considering its impact on the tourism industry such as more flights, souvenir shops, and transportation services.